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August 20 - 26, 2009

Most definitely
Mos Def gets back into hip-hop with his new album
by Dan Hinkel

• Mazel tov to metal

Just a couple of local rabbis chasing that elusive link between the modern Jewish experience and KISS
by Dave Kirby

  Most definitely
Mos Def gets back into hip-hop with his new album
by Dan Hinkel

Ten years ago this October, the Brooklyn backpacker hero dropped his revelatory solo debut, Black on Both Sides. That disc followed 1998’s must-have Black Star collaboration with Talib Kweli. Within 13 months, Mos Def, then in his 20s, put out two enduringly great hip-hop albums.

Five years passed.

Then in 2004, with fans eager to hear one of the most dexterous, empathetic and intellectually rigorous MCs in the industry puncture the arrogance and shameless opportunism of the post-9/11 power structure, Mos Def gave us The New Danger. The album turned out to be its own kind of revelation, a confounding blues-rap-punk thing, largely unrhymed and almost wholly unlistenable. He followed that inscrutable artistic choice with the plainly insulting True Magic, an undercooked contract-finisher with no cover art, like a mixtape, except it cost his fans money.

And recent concert reviews indicate he’s been mixing his new stuff with the occasional 20-minute Michael Jackson vamp, so that’s a big buyer-beware to everybody planning to see Mos, The Reminders, DJ Lazy Eyez, Whosane and the enigmatic, brilliant, maybe crazy Jay Electronica at Boulder Theater on August 22.

But there is cause for hope for ticket holders and Mos Def fans. This summer, Mos, now 35, cut loose The Ecstatic. The disc doesn’t cash in the promise of those first two albums, but it’s a worthwhile listen, and it’s a hip-hop album, which is cause to celebrate.

Philadelphia underground rapper iCON the Mic King felt what a lot of spurned fans felt when Mos made that wrenching left turn in 2004. He’s also feeling a tentative willingness to rebuild the relationship.

“He lost me at The New Danger in the same way Common Sense lost me with Electric Circus,” iCON said in an e-mail. “But what I’ve heard of this new record, The Ecstatic seems like a return to form and really like the album I would have liked to hear after Black on Both Sides.”

Spin Black on Both Sides, and you’ll still hear, a decade later, why that album was an exceptional accomplishment. On almost all of 17 tracks — most with upbeat but modest production — Mos laid three verses of intelligent, quotable, play-that-verse-back lyrics.

He’s political without being cloying or intellectually dishonest, and his rhymes sound written, reconsidered, rewritten, then spat at the hurdler’s pace of a poet who isn’t afraid to move fast, because he’s sure he believes what he says. Spliced between the funny, bemused political laments and rap boosterism are non-obnoxious bits of new age poetry and the slinky, beautiful “Ms. Fat Booty,” your wife’s or girlfriend’s favorite Mos Def song. Lyrical highlights are many. On “Mathematics,” Mos Def uses basic statistics to illustrate the consequences of inequality and ignorance, and he wraps the song with a quote-ready maxim: “Why did one straw break the camel’s back? / Here’s the secret: the million other straws underneath it.”

After 1999, Mos Def, once a child actor, made movies, most mediocre, one or two good. He was very funny as the befuddled Afrocentric terrorist rapper from the fictional group Mau Maus in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. He starred in plays and television, drawing occasional critical acclaim. And he made explosive political statements, doubting whether al-Qaeda planned 9/11 and attacking the thoroughly attackable government response to Hurricane Katrina. He also questioned the evidence of the moon landing, which is unfair because Buzz Aldrin doesn’t go around questioning whether Mos Def made “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Mos was a non-factor for hip-hop for many of the years since 1999. Many saw that as a betrayal, but indie MC Ilyas, of the Brooklyn rap coming-uppers Tanya Morgan, said he respected Mos Def for his artistic experimentalism and his social criticisms.

“Of course he is a great MC, but as a left-field artist myself, I appreciate him for stepping outside of his box. In the same sense that I respect Andre 3000 for stepping out of the box,” Ilyas said in an e-mail. “Mos Def is courageous more than anything, and that’s why I admire him regardless of how I or the next person may feel about his creative decisions as of late.”
Here’s to hoping his courage and his MC skills can once again be used together.


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On the Bill
Mos Def performs with Reflection Eternal and Jay Electronica at 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21, at Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Denver, 303-788-0984, and with The Reminders, DJ Lazy Eyez, Whosane and Jay Electronica at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 22, at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.

Mazel tov to metal
Just a couple of local rabbis chasing that elusive link between the modern Jewish experience and KISS
by Dave Kirby

Even if there are plenty of people out there who don’t get it, Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder thinks he understands heavy metal… or maybe more precisely, understands the connection between the modern Jewish experience and metal.

Goldfeder, who leads the Boulder Orthodox congregation Aish Kodesh, sponsors a discussion group in town called Soul Food, essentially an ongoing roundtable forum discussing contemporary cultural ties to the modern Jewish experience. His co-leader, Joshua Rose, is a Reform rabbi with the Har HaShem Congregation.

“We look for opportunities to cultivate dialogue about Jewish identity,” says Goldfeder. “And the way we do that is by looking for cultural access points for conversation. In the past, we’ve shown movies with Jewish themes, books, we’ve done concerts. We’re always looking for ways to provide access.”

But… metal? The goat-ears thing? Ozzy rules? That metal?

“I was reading an article about a band named Anvil, who has recently re-emerged on the scene, and couldn’t help notice that the drummer’s father was a Holocaust survivor. Survived Auschwitz. And the fact that there seemed to be a preponderance of Jewish artists in heavy metal. So, Josh and I started to explore that as a theme.”

Hmm. So, is there something about the modern Jewish experience that finds its thematic counterpart in stacks of Marshall amps? Or something about metal itself that finds its own resonance with the contemporary Jew absorbing it into the fabric of his or her own history?

“That’s the whole thing we’re exploring. The simple answer is: yes, Jews are angry. There’s a lot of pent up emotion and a lot of frustration, not only with the way they’ve been treated through history, but perhaps also with the ills of the world and looking for proper outlets for that.

“I was also speaking with a gentleman today about this very topic, and he suggested the possibility that what metal does oftentimes is challenge the perceptions and tastes of a society. And Jews often find themselves in that position, of being outside the values of a society and feeling the responsibility to challenge them.”

And who comes for these discussions?

“Oftentimes, half of the crowd will be people who just come out of the woodwork. Which is a success. What we’re trying to do is coax people out of the woodwork and provide an access point that they may have lost in synagogue life. They might have found organized religion to be unappealing. Or they had a bad experience as a kid. And now we want to provide an opportunity for them to come out of the woodwork and identify themselves in some way.

“And then there’s other people who maybe are affiliated and do attend synagogue services, but who feel like not all aspects of their personality are being met.”

And in the metal world, where all is perfect in its imperfection and rage is the mother tongue, we wondered who Goldfeder would point to as symbols of this filament of Jewish identity.

“A lot of it is individual artists. There’s Marty Friedman from Negative. There’s rumors that Slash from Guns N’ Roses [real name: Saul Hudson] is Jewish. Dee Snider from Twisted Sister. KISS. Most of KISS is Jewish. I mean, there enough there to be noticeable.”

So, Soul Food meets at the Catacombs Sunday night to shparn zikh on this tematik. Free food and free beer provide a decent incentive. Gentiles and the merely curious are warmly invited… but there’s gotta be something else. OK, historic anger, periodic isolation from, and sometimes confrontation with, the precepts of alien cultures. This much makes sense, but there’s gotta be something else about metal, something about its spiked and shaded soul… something.

“Well, there’s a third possibility that has to do with a mythical creature that lives in an attic in Prague… but I can’t let that one too far out.”


On the Bill

Soul Food: Metal from the Shtetl takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23, at Catacombs (basement of the Hotel Boulderado), 2115 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-0486.
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